Dying Light 2 Interview: You Can be a Joker-like Agent of Chaos, Cross-Gen Confirmed
If Wccftech had named a “Most Improved Game” in our E3 2019 Awards, it would almost certainly have gone to Dying Light 2. Not that what I saw at last year’s E3 was lacking in any way. The 2018 version of Dying Light 2 looked to be a solid step forward for Techland’s franchise, but what I saw this year, was truly impressive. The game is an eye-popping visual showcase and the parkour-infused action is as intense as ever, but it’s the player-choice driven story (overseen by Fallout and Baldur’s Gate veteran Chris Avellone) that really impressed me. Cyberpunk 2077 was the most impressive demo I had a chance to see at E3 2019, but Dying Light 2 was a surprisingly-close second.
The E3 2019 Dying Light 2 demo properly introduces players to the game’s protagonist, Aiden Caldwell. He’s been infected by the zombie virus, but otherwise, seems to be your typical square-jawed video game hero. I can’t say that Aiden stood out as particularly memorable, but it’s pretty clear Techland’s real focus is on Dying Light 2’s complex world. The demo kicks off in a crowded, atmospheric bar, where Aiden receives a mission to infiltrate the Castle, a water plant that has been turned into a fortress/medieval fiefdom by a local warlord known as the Colonel. Unfortunately, before Aiden can set off on this mission, his group is ambushed by another faction, and his buddy Frank is shot. Players are given the choice of staying with Frank or pursuing the attackers, with Techland taking the latter option.
The chase sequence was an impressive showcase of Dying Light 2’s tech, with Aiden scrambling up, over, and through the ruined cityscape, dodging monsters as he tries to keep up with the bad guy’s van. During all this, the game’s soundtrack steadily builds in intensity, making the sequence feel like an interactive scene from a great action movie. During the chase, Aiden accidentally plunges into a zombie-infested Dark Area, and the tone of the action goes from Michael Bay to edge-of-your-seat horror, as the player must use a limited supply of UV flares and their parkour skills to stay one step ahead of the horde. Eventually Aiden escapes the Dark Area and catches up with the van, but the victory is tarnished when he finds out Frank has died. Could he have been saved if you had stayed with him? The entire sequence was seamless, fluid, and intense, and the way the game marries action and decision making is very promising. If Techland can pull off multiple sequences like this, they could have something special on their hands.
Aiden does manage to infiltrate the Castle, which is where Dying Light 2’s more challenging writing really comes to the fore. While your friends have made the Colonel out to be a villain, the community he’s built actually seems to be...rather nice. Certainly less of a cesspool than the City you just came from. Once you confront the Colonel, you’re giving the option of working with him or taking him out and opening the floodgates. Should you sacrifice the Castle for your scuzzy friends back in the City? That’s what the folks running the demo opted for, which resulted in the reservoir around the Castle draining, revealing an entirely new area to explore...and an intimidating new zombie type. And if you had sided with the Colonel? No new area, no new zombie type, but perhaps some interesting storylines to pursue. These are the kind of difficult choices you expect of a hardcore PC RPG, not necessarily a mainstream action-aventure game like Dying Light 2.
After scoping out the Dying Light 2 demo at E3, I got the chance to ask Chris Avellone, producer Kornel Jaskula, and Techland chief technology officer Paweł Rohleder a few questions. We touch on the game’s visual tech, soundtrack, morality system (or lack thereof), the possibility of this being a cross-gen title, and more, so read on...
At E3 you revealed your new protagonist, Aiden Caldwell. What’s his goal in the game? How will his infection play into his character and progression?
Chris Avellone: We don’t want to give away too much about Aiden’s background and his arc at this stage, but it’s safe to say his goals aren’t static. They shift throughout the game as he learns more about himself, the City, and the inhabitants. And aside from Aiden’s personal goals, his agenda is also influenced (or aligned with) various other factions in the City – and they also depend heavily on what the players themselves want to accomplish in the landscape of the City.
Still, there’s common challenges and threats everyone in the Dying Light world struggles with. The infection that consumed most of humanity is ever-present, and it touches the lives of everyone in the City, Aiden included. The threat of losing one’s mind to the infection and joining the infected in the City streets is never far from the player’s mind – and it is a constant driving force to all those living in the City, and often the reason factions are at each other’s throats. That said, while the threat of infection a looming threat, on a positive note, it’s also the reason factions band together to work toward a common goal: survival, and Aiden will see that play out in Dying Light 2’s story.
Aiden does feel a bit familiar, especially in light of the recent push for more diverse heroes. Is that intentional? Is Aiden supposed to be a bit of a cypher, with the world being the main focus?
Kornel Jaskula: We have created our playable character with a certain goal in mind. We want Aiden to be a mere vessel, a shell that the player fills with their decisions. The Aiden that emerges in the end will be shaped by the player’s own moral compass.
The E3 demo focused heavily on player choice. Is there a traditional morality system at play here or is strictly up to you to choose if something you’ve done is “good” or “bad”?
CA: There’s no traditional morality bar or a Karma system like you’d find in other games – you are the judge of your own actions. Ultimately you know why you’re making a choice, what the intention was behind your choice, then you face the consequences of your choice. Even if you had the best of intentions, it’s entirely possible to make a choice that will cause others to regard you as a villain or an enemy - and choices you may have made for selfish reasons may end up causing the inhabitants of the City to interpret it as an act of goodwill. Ultimately, the player is their own moral compass, but the world around them may pass judgement on the player’s actions based on their own agendas, perspective, and motivations.
Is it possible to essentially play the Joker in the game? To pit everyone against each other and sow chaos just for laughs?
CA: Yes. Dying Light 2 is designed to allow the player to play any number of roles – helpful benefactor, selfish looter, ruthless pragmatist, betrayer, or even a trickster if they wish, and you can definitely turn the factions against themselves and individuals against each other. There may be many instances where such behavior earns rewards, both expected and some unexpected… but unexpected consequences as well. While you can orchestrate chaos, there’s also the danger of being swept up in it as well.
Much of the E3 demo took place outside of the City, in the countryside and at a separate outpost. How big is the wilderness around the City? Are there any other unique communities we might stumble upon?
KJ: The City in its entirety is four times bigger than all of the maps from the original Dying Light combined. It consists of seven different regions, including some less urbanized areas. Each region is a truly unique environment where every inch is playable, both vertically and horizontally. The City is inhabited by two main factions, Peacekeepers and Scavengers, and numerous other communities that the player can discover.
At the end of the demo, Aiden’s decisions result in a whole new area being exposed. Would it be possible to totally miss that area if you had made different decisions?
KJ: If Aiden had chosen differently, the area would have remained flooded. It still would be playable, but in a totally different way. A lot of activities and adventures connected to that decision would be missed. It is worth mentioning that during a single playthrough of Dying Light 2, you will see perhaps 50 percent of the content.
You also hint at a new type of zombie at the end there. Can you tell us more about them? How many new types of zombies can players expect?
KJ: I don’t want to share too many details just yet, but I can say that Dying Light 2 takes place 15 years after the original game, so it only makes sense that the infection creating these monsters has evolved. You can expect new enemies and new ways to fight them as well.
Last year one of the things you showed off were the new “parkour puzzles,” but we didn’t really see a new example this year. Are those still a big focus?
KJ: We strive to build memorable adventures for the player. We use many different gameplay “bubbles” to achieve that. Sections where you have to figure out the optimal path and perform a sequence of moves while constantly monitoring stamina are one of them. So yes, they are still a big focus for us.
One thing that really struck me about this year’s demo was the music. It felt very dynamic. Who’s doing the soundtrack?
KJ: Our aim is a top-notch soundtrack with music that captures the dark mood of our “Modern Dark Ages” setting. Celebrated video game composer Olivier Deriviere is creating that for us. The demo also featured the song “Help I’m Alive” by Metric. We want the music to stick as closely as possible to the spirit of Dying Light and have indeed introduced a system that dynamically adapts the music to the situation the player is in.
The game also looks to have improved visually over the past year. Are you using any fancy new rendering techniques, like, say, ray tracing or DLSS? Would you consider doing so in the future?
Pawel Rohleder: At Techland, we have always been keen on new technologies, especially when it comes to photo-realism and graphical fidelity. Ray tracing has been the holy grail of real-time computer graphics for years, so of course we are looking into it. Regarding DLSS, we are a bit more skeptical, but we are conducting research in that area as well.
What resolution was the demo we saw running at? Definitely looked sharper than 1080p to my eyes. What resolution and features are you looking to deliver on more powerful consoles like the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro?
PR: The demo you saw was running at 2.5K (2560x1440). For Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, we want to run at full HD (1920x1080). It’s too early to specify exclusive features for more powerful consoles, but our top priority is a smooth gameplay experience (parkour, combat, etc.).
Dying Light 2 seems like a good candidate to become a cross-generation title. You’ve hinted at it before, but can you confirm the game will come to next generation consoles?
PR: Techland always has an eye on the latest new toys! To be more specific -- yes, the plan since the beginning of production has been to make Dying Light 2 a cross-generation title.
Thanks for answering my questions, guys!
Dying Light 2 hits PC, Xbox One, and PS4 in the first half of 2020.
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